If defense wins championships, then unbeaten Mission Viejo High is a far greater threat in Southern Section Division 1 than many people believe when you consider Santa Ana Mater Dei is 10-0 and heavily favored to win a third consecutive title.
To dream about the possibility of an upset, all you need to do is watch and listen to 6-foot-5, 240-pound senior defensive end Lance Keneley, who has a 4.7 grade-point average and 10 sacks this season for the 10-0 Diablos.
Asked about defensive success, Keneley said, “One of the most important is the role each individual player plays with the defense. If you try to be a playmaker for extra stuff that’s not in your job description, you can hurt a team. The important part is as long as everyone understands and plays to their role, we’ll be a fine defense.”
No opponent has scored more than 14 points in any game against the Diablos going into a Friday night showdown against visiting Anaheim Servite (7-3) in the opening round of the eight-team Division 1 playoffs.
A standout as a junior, Keneley received lots of attention this season from opponents trying to neutralize him, but the development of outstanding teammates around him has helped create opportunities for others — as long as they fulfill their roles.
“We have a great coaching staff that understands the ins and outs of football,” Keneley said. “As long as we trust our coaches and trust their knowledge, we’ll do fine.”
Coach Chad Johnson was a longtime assistant at Bellflower St. John Bosco running the Braves’ offensive attack until taking over at Mission Viejo last season. He knew the players up front are decisive in Division 1 football, and the Diablos’ defensive line has received universal praise all season. Former UCLA football player Chase Moline coaches the line.
“It was a blessing we have people around him,” Johnson said.
Defensive end Logan Schwenke, who is 6-3 and 240 pounds, has seven sacks. Defensive tackle Keanu Tanuvasa, 6-4 and 270 pounds, has five sacks. Juniors Micah Carreron (6-1, 275) and Roee Lachmish (6-3, 230) are also part of the rotation.
Keneley, 17, comes from a family of football players. His father Matt and uncle Todd played on the defensive line at Mission Viejo and USC.
“Going into high school, I just wanted to be the kind of players they were,” Keneley said.
USC has yet to offer Keneley a scholarship, unlike UCLA and Stanford along with Washington, Boise State and Ivy League schools. He’s being patient and trying to show integrity in a recruiting process where players commit and decommit and coaches make dozens of offers that may or may not be serious.
“Through this whole thing, I’m just trying to be a genuine player and kid and try to be as upfront as I can be,” he said. “When you get into this and sort of scheme your way, ‘How can I get this offer?’ That’s not the kind of person I was raised to be. I am who I am and this is how I’m going to approach things and hopefully people can accept that.”
He certainly has come close to perfection in the classroom with mostly A’s.
“It’s something my parents have always stressed,” he said. “They’ve stressed striving for greatness in all aspects: sports, academics, religion. To be the best version of ourselves.”
It’s that kind of attitude that will be required to overcome the notion that Mater Dei and St. John Bosco are a lock meet in the championship game for a fourth consecutive season.
“The most important thing is being the best player I can be for my team and putting my nose into the grindstone every time,” he said. “I want us to run deep into the playoffs.”